Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: November 1, 2022 by Crystal Uys


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There aren’t many things that are more frustrating than a cat who is finicky about her food. The problem is compounded when you’ve educated yourself about what constitutes a healthy diet for cats, but your fussy kitty will only eat dry food or highly processed wet food. What’s a cat parent to do?

What Makes Cats Finicky?

Medical issues

Loss of appetite, especially when it comes on suddenly, can be an indicator of a serious medical problem. When a previously healthy cats stops eating for more than 24-48 hours, this is cause for concern, and requires a veterinary visit. Cats can develop a condition called hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease, which can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

Finicky eaters are made, not born

Finicky eaters are made, not born. Ideally, young kittens are introduced to a variety of foods and textures as soon as they begin eating solid food, beginning at the age of 4 months. By being exposed to variety at an early age, these cats will accept different foods, textures and flavors more easily than cats who have been fed the same food from kittenhood on. Kittens fed the same food all the time often refuse unfamiliar foods later in life.

Food bowls

Do you have the right food bowls? Most cats don’t like it when their sensitive whiskers touch the side of the bowls, so avoid narrow and deep bowls. Plastic food bowls can give off smells that are offensive to sensitive feline noses, and they can also cause chin rashes in sensitive cats. Make sure food bowls are kept scrupulously clean, but don’t use detergents with a strong scent to wash bowls and the area around the bowls.

Mixing medication or supplements into meals

While giving medications with food can work well, don’t mix it in with the cat’s regular food. Most medications and supplements alter the flavor of food, and even though your cat may eat the food with the medication mixed in the first few times, you may be inadvertently creating a food aversion. If you must use food to give medication, use a small amount of a different food, and then feed the cat’s regular meal.

Hard core dry food addicts

One reason why it can be so challenging to get a cat to accept healthier food is in part due to what pet food manufacturers do to make dry food so enticing to cats. As part of the production process, the baked or extruded kibble is sprayed with animal digest (and yes, it’s pretty much as disgusting as it sounds: digest is material which results from chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolisis of clean and undecomposed animal tissue.) Cats love the taste of these digests; for some cats, it’s like kitty crack and actually causes them to be addicted. Some cats also love the texture of dry food and may resist the drastic change in texture from dry to grain-free wet food.

Transitioning to a Healthier Diet

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need meat in their diet to thrive. Their systems aren’t designed to digest carbohydrates. A raw diet is one of the best ways to fulfill cats’ nutritional requirements, but raw food, even a commercially prepared raw diet, may exceed the comfort level for some cat parents. I don’t think it’s necessary to take an “all or nothing” stand when it comes to feline nutrition, but I do believe that it is important to feed our cats a diet that is as minimally processed as possible. While grain-free canned food is always a better choice than dry, canned food is heat processed, which destroys many of the nutrients.

There are few options for minimally processed fresh cooked diets on the market. One of the options that I like a lot comes from NomNom Now.

Transition slowly, and be patient

The key is to transitioning to a healthier diet is to go slow, and be patient. For some cats, it may take several months. I’ve heard of one cat whose human would put down a small amount of wet food next to his dry food every day for several weeks. He refused to touch it, so she wound up throwing it out each time. Then one day, several weeks into the transition, he gobbled up the wet food and never touched his dry food again!

Stop free choice feeding. If you leave food out at all times, stop this practice immediately. This step is critical. Feed two or three times a day, at set meal times, and take up what the cat doesn’t eat within about half an hour. She gets no other food until the next meal time. Your cat will not try anything new if you keep her bowl filled with the old, familiar food 24/7.

Be prepared that your cat will make you feel like you’re letting her starve. This phase of the process can be much harder on the human than it is on the cat. Persistence is key. A little hunger at meal times can be a powerful motivator to get a cat to accept the new food.

Gradually increase the amount of the new foodand decrease the amount of the old food, until you’re only feeding the new food.

*FTC Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, which means that I was compensated to feature this content. This post was sponsored by NomNom. Unfortunately, as of February 2022, the company  has discontinued its offerings for cats. Regardless of payment received, you will only see products or services featured on this site that I believe are of interest to our readers. 

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9 Comments on Transitioning a Finicky Eater to a Healthier Diet

  1. I have a cat I adopted from the city shelter when she was 2 years old. I bought the food, dry and canned, the shelter was feeding then, thinking to offer what was familiar. (She had been in the shelter about 3 months.) She absolutely refused to eat any of it. She was educating me about what she did not want. The first day she didn’t eat I thought it was because she was in a new place (tho in other ways she seemed comfortable). By the 3rd day I thought, Well, she has GOT to eat, and offered the foods the other 2 cats were eating. She ate the dry food. She ATE.
    But it took awhile for me to find a canned food she would eat and when I did it was a Friskies. Thankfully it was “Poultry Platter;” the first ingredient is turkey (not by products). And she stuck with it for 3-4 years. I served other foods, much better foods, to the other cats and she could have eaten them but would NOT.
    And then one day my neighbor’s cat was eating a Fancy Feast fish and she tried it (the other cat is her best friend)… and ate that daily for a long time.
    Now she’s had a very severe allergic reaction. Our usual vet says it’s to something “environmental.” The vet she saw when he wasn’t available was convinced it was a food allergy. Which was my first thought, too. Now I’ve taken away all the fish and am offering various brands of rabbit instead. So far I’ve found a rabbit and a duck dry foods she will eat, but she’s back on Poultry Platter again.
    I’ve found canned rabbit for cats and the other cat likes one of those a lot, but Rosie hasn’t touched it yet.
    Serving food on a schedule is not going to work for us as it simply doesn’t fit our life styles. And Rosie has never been convinced to eat anything she didn’t want / like because she was hungry anyway.
    I will definitely take a look at NomNomNow — hope they offer some single protein source foods, particularly rabbit. By now I don’t care about % of carbs (CHO), if the protein is good quality. Thanks for telling us about NomNom; I’d never heard of it.

    • I know it can be a frustrating journey, especially when the issue of food sensitivity or allergy comes into play. Let me know how your kitty does with NomNomNow if you decide to try it, Cheri.

  2. Before Christmas I was looking into options for one of my cats. I filled out the form but didn’t submit it. (I know how to use the internet, so I’m certain there was no submitting that happened.) Still managed to capture my email and start sending me things. So, that wasn’t cool and put me off of looking into it further.

  3. I thought cats did not need veggies in their diet. Is that just for natural vitamins? I wish they would give samples of this food. I’m having a very difficult time getting my senior kitty to eat anything. She has the beginnings of kidney disease and has lost so much weight. Vet has prescribed Azodyl and an antibiotic. It’s been almost a month with very little improvement. Maybe this better quality food might help. So sad as they get old and succumb to disease. :'(

    • The veggies are used as a source of vitamins, Debi. As I told Shelly, I prefer foods with less than 5% carb content, but I consider NomNomNow a good option for cat parents who don’t want to feed raw, but still want to feed a diet that is less processed than canned food.

    • Hey Debi! Perhaps you have not read about Probiotics! I am a nutritional therapist (human) and cannot give enough praise about the effects of pre and probiotics for humans, but must also highly praise the use of these GOOD bacteria to supplement the cats natural gut/microbiome and health needs as well!
      ANY time you must use an antibiotic prescription from your Vet, please know that antibiotics do NOT discriminate between the Bad Bacteria and the Good or beneficial Bacteria which are vital to health of all the animal kingdom! I personally tend to prefer to wait until after the course of antibiotics are finished. I then will make sure my kitties (and all other human and animals) complete a full course of Probiotics and if included, the Pre-biotics which feed this good bacteria!
      It has been 7 days since your post, so I would assume you are close to the end of your prescription! DO READ the Conscious Cat’s article on Probiotics!!!! You will be doing the VERY BEST thing you can do for your cat’s health by doing so and purchasing this supplement for your aging, ill cat! This is A MUST for ALL kitties of any age, to provide life’s most vital support for health and great immune function benefits! I plan to submit my story of bringing life back to my 18 year old cat, whose life I saved with my own human source, from Biotics Research corp! From the looks of it, I like Dr Mercola’s brand the best, for dogs and cats. Please do not wait! I believe you WILL see a major difference very quickly, as all the kitties I have counseled about this have had remarkable success! If needed, because this is acute, rather than adding to wet food, please mix it in a small amount of water, put into a syringe or eye dropper and drip into the side of your kitties mouth, so they can lap it up. Do not eject it into their mouth, so as to avoid inhaling of liquid! Nice small drops so they can swallow all of this virtually tasteless mix. I sometimes mix it in organic Tuna water, from a human grade can! You can do this twice a day for 7 days or until you see the difference, then once a day thereafter. Keep in touch! Blessings and prayers for your beloved kitty and you! Sheila

  4. I guess I don’t understand, your take on NomNom, with 10% carbs, all of the articles I’ve read suggest no more than 5%. I understand the nutrient benefit of the vegetables and fruit but not at the expense of a higher carb count? Ingrid, can you give me a little more on your thoughts, to help me and others understand. As always I love your articles and the inspire me to dig a little deeper.

    • I would prefer a food with less than 5% carb content, but I consider NomNomNow a good option for cat parents who don’t want to feed raw, but want to feed a diet that is less processed than canned food.

    • Hi Shelley,

      This is Kevin from NomNomNow; thank you so much for your question. We’d like to clarify that the 10% carbs you noted from our recipe page is ‘% of calories’ and not the percent amount of ingredients in the meal itself. It should be read as your cat would be receiving 90% of the calories from protein/fat and 10% of the calories from carbs. We hope this helps clarify your question about the carb percentage.

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